Embracing sadness in a positivity-obsessed society
This is a guest post on Mindful Urbanist written by Aliona Slabenko
A couple of weeks ago, I was hit by a wave of sadness. I had no idea where it came from. Nothing major had happened lately. I was trying to fight it with positive thoughts.
Stay positive and everything will be alright.
It didn’t help. I wasn’t able to smile. I didn't want to see anyone and could feel social anxiety creeping up on me. I want to be clear and say that I have no history of mental health issues of any kind. This situation has never happened to me before. So what was it?
I started delving deeper into my thoughts and realized that it came from a mixture of fatigue and disappointment. I was frustrated about the loss of my friend (we stopped talking) and I had used all my savings to pay for my university classes. I felt like I needed significant changes in my life.
It had built up over time and had no release. I felt like this for four days and then the feeling left me. Since then, I realized that there was a hope - sadness comes and goes, but what is the most important - it exposes weak spots in your life. It’s an opportunity for change. It’s crucial to address this issue nowadays because not everyone knows how to deal with a sudden bout of sadness. They may be stuck and have no way out.
Individuals usually focus on being positive. When you are sad or frustrated, it feels almost like a crime. You’re expected to be positive. If you try sharing your issues with colleagues or friends, you might hear platitudes.
Be positive. Smile more. Think happy, be happy.
Almost every article, book, or billboard will scream at you to stay positive. What if it doesn't work that way? What if I told you - you can embrace your sadness? Stay in it. Be in it.
A Vancouver poet, Amanda Eagleson, said, “I was just honest with people about my mood - this is how I’m feeling right now - and it was a good thing I think”. She definitely has something to say on this topic - she was battling mental health issues two years ago. “As long as you are aware of your state of mind - you are fine,” she said. Calling attention to your problem is half of the battle!
I didn't use any tools to control my mood, but one common tool is meditation. James Carmody, a professor at the Behavioral Medicine University of Massachusetts Medical School, did a 2008 study* that found among 174 people with stress syndromes and anxiety showed a significant reduction after 8 sessions.
Those classes include yoga, sitting meditation and body scanning techniques. All exercises were performed by individuals at home without any supervision. Also, a recent study** in 2016 by Rinske Gotink, a professor at the University of Rotterdam, proved that even 8-week mindfulness practice makes the brain reacts like it was a long-term one. He concluded that mindfulness techniques “led to changes in the amygdala consistent with improved emotion regulation”.
Mindfulness helps you control your emotions
Denise Hall***, a Vancouver doctor claims, “allowing (feelings) to surface and acknowledging them frees the energy of the emotion.” She also believes that avoiding sadness can cause more troubles. People need to acknowledge it and accept that it will go away on its own.
Does meditation help us handle these emotions? Denise says that it “allows feelings to come to the surface, be acknowledged and then go away with something else to replace it”.
Allowing yourself to be sad helps you stay in a present moment instead of dwelling on the future and the past. If you’re going to be sad, you should also be mindful. Denise recommends keeping a journal, talking with friends, or visiting a counsellor to manage occasional sadness.
I should be in tuned with my emotions and allow myself to be me. I should never beat myself up for being sad or unproductive. The next time I’m feeling low, I’ll ask myself why and get to the heart of the issue.
As a part of being a human, I’ll undergo so many different emotions. It's my responsibility to be aware of them and not lose control. They can teach a lot about me as a person and it’s a part of getting to know myself.
Aliona Slabenko is a writer and journalist based in Vancouver, BC
*James Carmody study published in J Behav Med. 2008 Feb;31(1):23-33. Epub 2007 Sep 25
**Rinske Gotink study published in Brain Cogn. 2016 Oct;108:32-41
***Dr. Denise Hall, Canadian Certified Clinical Counsellor, Vancouver, BC
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Let us know in the comments below what you do when you find yourself suddenly overwhelmed by negativity.